It has often been advocated that the body in the tomb in Les Invalides is that of an impostor, and not the great Napoleon Bonaparte. Despite persistent theories and rumours to this effect, the French government refuses to allow DNA tests to be performed on the body. The use of doubles by prominent public figures is not a new concept. Three of four Napoleon doubles can be accounted for: One died of a bullet wound, one was poisoned, and another was crippled after falling off his horse. The fourth one may have been one Francois Eugene Robeaud, whose death is recorded as “Born in this village, died on St Helena…” The date has been deleted. After Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo, Robeaud’s role as doppelganger became redundant and he retired to Baleycourt in the Meuse. Here he lived with his sister and whiled away his time with rabbit-farming. In the summer of 1818 an elegant carriage entered the village and its mysterious occupant enquired after Robeaud, who later stated that the visitor wanted to buy rabbits. Shortly afterwards Robeaud and his sister disappear from the village overnight. The police trace his sister to Nantes, where she is living a comfortable life. Her brother, she says, has become a sailor and is away on a long trip. Later that year Fanny Dillon Bertrand, wife of a senior member of Napoleon’s household on St Helena, writes in a letter to a friend: “Success is ours! Napoleon has left the island.” On St. Helena, the man believed to be Napoleon becomes increasingly eccentric. He is reclusive and hides from the British officers. The British Prime Minister, Lord Liverpool, is astonished to be received by Napoleon in a dark room, lying in bed and appearing to be unkempt and dishevelled. Even more disconcerting is his new interest in farming. He buys lambs and fancies himself becoming a shepherd. Napoleon’s health starts to decline. However, his mother and other relatives do not appear to be perturbed. His uncle, Cardinal Joseph Fesch, even states in a letter that they have valid proof that he is no longer on the island, although they have no knowledge of his exact whereabouts. Napoleon dies on 3 May 1821. An autopsy is held on 6 May and the cause of death is stated to be “a condition leading to cancer.” The “other condition” has by posterity been widely debated as being generous doses of arsenic over a period of time. Whether it was Napoleon or a double who died, albeit from cancer or by poison, is still open to conjecture. Another possible “double’ appears on the scene.
In February of that same year Napoleon’s major domo, Francheschi Cipriani, died suddenly following severe stomach pains. When the grave was opened for a post mortem to be conducted on the body, it was found to be empty. Is this the person lying in Les Invalides? Back to 1818. Shortly after Fanny Bertrand’s letter enthusing about Napoleon’s escape, a Signor Revard disembarks from a ship in Verona. He speaks fluent Italian and holds such a canny resemblance to Napoleon that he is soon given this nickname by the locals. Apparently a wealthy man, he becomes a partner in a diamond concern with a certain Petrucci. On 23 August 1823 Revard receives a letter which causes him great agitation and he immediately departs for an unknown destination. He leaves a letter addressed to “His Highness the King of France” with his partner, to be delivered should he not return within three months. In Schönbrunn Castle, Vienna, Napoleon’s son lies seriously ill. During the night of 4 September, an intruder trying to scale the castle wall is shot and killed. A message is sent to the French embassy, who then claims the body, but Marie Louise, Napoleon’s former wife and mother of his son, refuses. The mysterious intruder is buried in an unmarked grave at Schönbrunn. Revard never returns to Verona. His letter is delivered and Petrucci receives a handsome reward. 30 years later he makes a sworn statement that Revard was in actual fact Napoleon. Subsequent theories are that this revelation by Petrucci is a blatant untruth, or that it was Robeaud who was killed at Schönbrunn, endeavouring to deliver a message from Napoleon to his ill son. This does not explain the entry of Robeaud’s death in the register on St Helena. In 1948 a woman contacted Alexander Gorbovsky, the Russian historian who has made a painstaking study of all of the above. She claimed that she had been told by her grandfather that the person in the tomb at Les Invalides was her own great-grandfather. The woman’s maiden name was Jeanette Robeaud.